. . .
The first single from Superunknown, “Spoonman” was probably an indication that things were going to be slightly different on their new album: it was a supercharged slab of heavy-ass funk, full of stops and starts and asides. It also had kind of a weird origin story, as inside Seattle as you could possibly imagine.
It was based upon a prop cassette that Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament designed for Cameron Crowe’s film, Singles. The cassette was supposed to be the solo songs recorded by Matt Dillon’s character, Cliff Poncier. Chris Cornell liked the song titles so much, he recorded a bunch of demos using those song titles, one of which was “Spoonman.”
It gets weirder: “Spoonman” was based upon a real guy, a street performer called Artis The Spoonman, who played percussion with spoons. As you do. And not only did they bring the Spoonman to play on the song that was about him, he complained that he wasn’t mixed high enough! As you do.
And so the verses are full of stops and starts as Cornell duets with Ben Shepherd.
Feel the rhythm with your hands
(Steal the rhythm while you can)
Speak the rhythm on your own
(Speak the rhythm all alone)
Whereas the choruses are just pure riff heaven, Kim Thayil & Chris Cornell playing call-and-response while Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron bulldoze their way through the big-ass funky beat.
Spoonman, come together with your hands
Save me, I’m together with your plan
Save, save me
Save me, yeah
After the second chorus, there’s a breakdown bridge where Cornell mutters “c’mon” and “save me” a few times and Thayil uncorks a relatively short solo. All of which leads to a long section with Matt Cameron tattooing his snare drum while the Spoonman does his thing. It’s kinda cool, but ultimately a bit distracting, unless you like extra percussion on songs as much as I do.
That said, “Spoonman” was a big hit on both Alt Rock and Mainstream Rock charts — the first time of many times they would straddle those lines — making it to #9 and #3 respectively, and was a Top 20 hit in the U.K., to boot.
“Spoonman” Official Music Video
“Spoonman” Live in Japan, 1994
“Spoonman” Live in London, 2012
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